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Perhaps doomed from day one, relegation could be just what Penang need

Relegation seemed to be on the cards for Penang after just a few weeks of the Malaysia Super League season. But as John Duerden reports, it could end up being a blessing in disguise...

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When the league is only 22 games long, then failing to win in the first eight is a recipe for the drop. In reality, it could have happened last season – and probably should.

It all shows that there needs to be a change in the way the club operates. Some say that relegation can be good for a club, giving a chance to rebuild. It can be.

Building from the back is one thing, but the club lost its first six games of the season and was never able to recover

With the drop confirmed, Penang need to take three things: a deep breath, stock and then steps forward, one at a time.

Promotion to the top tier was achieved on the last day of the 2015 season. Survival in the top flight was achieved in the last few minutes of the 2016 season.

The club has lurched from game to game, never looking or thinking past the next result.

The appointment of Ashley Westwood at the end of last season seemed a good one. The young English coach had delivered two Indian league titles to Bengaluru in the space of three seasons.

Ambitious and single-minded, Westwood seemed to offer a long-term strategy, but perhaps the ex-Manchester United academy player tried to do too much too soon.

Smiles have been few and far between this season

A much tougher training regime did not go down well with some players.

There were concerns that the club lacked firepower and had, unlike some of its Malaysia Super League counterparts, filled its foreign quota with too many defence-minded players.

The contract was as short as the thinking. There was never any target other than survival. It was secured, just, and the Croatians left

Building from the back is one thing, but the club lost its first six games of the season and was never able to recover.

The low point was a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of a Pahang team that was far from world-beaters. With just two points from eight games, Westwood left. The only surprise was that he lasted that long.

It could well be that the Englishman’s short spell in Penang will be forgotten, especially if he goes on to replicate his Indian success elsewhere. He was always up against it.

Coming in relatively late in pre-season due to media obligations in India, he had little time to get to grips with the task at hand.

It proved a painful season for the Black Panthers

After sacking Jacksen Tiago in the middle of 2016 with Penang fighting relegation, in came Bojan Hodak and Nenad Bacina whose remit was to simply preserve top-flight status.

The contract was as short as the thinking. There was never any target for the pair other than survival. It was secured, just, and the Croatians left.

Had he been given more time and attempted more gradual change then things could have been different

When Westwood arrived, he complained of having little to work with in terms of player fitness and structures within the club.

Had he been given more time and attempted more gradual change then things could have been different, but with just two points on the board and over a third of the season gone, his fate and almost certainly that of Penang was sealed.

In came Zainal Abidin Hassan and again, he was charged with keeping the team up and nothing else.

[NEXT: The legend does his best to turn the tide]